Fundamental Questions of the Christian Life # 10
A Man In Need
Firstly, then, the man - the Ethiopian - and his need. Let us get his full-length portrait, as far as we can. Firstly, he is a man of high position and achievement in this world. He is a man who is successful, who has attained to a place of great honor. He is a man, evidently, of mo mean learning. He has been up to Jerusalem to worship, probably at one of the feasts, which implies that he understood the language used there by the Jews - Hebrew or Aramaic; and then he was also versed in Greek, because the passage which is quoted here from Isaiah is quoted from the Septuagint - the Greek translation of the Old Testament. For an Ethiopian that indicates a wide range of intelligence and a considerable degree of learning and knowledge.
Then, he was evidently a devoutly religious man, doubtless a Jewish proselyte, for we are told that he had made the long journey to Jerusalem in order to worship. But because he was a eunuch, laboring under a veto in the Old Testament, he was strictly forbidden to enter within a certain area of the Temple. I mention that, because it might well have put him off. As a proselyte of the gate, beyond a certain point he would meet a closed door. That might have discouraged him and kept him away: but such is his devotion that he undertakes the long journey to Jerusalem, in spite of the handicap and the seeming rebuff he would meet at the temple. He goes up to worship.
Then, having taken his long journey, in his honesty and devout sincerity, he returns, clearly a disappointed man. He has been to the very headquarters of the learning and teaching of the Scriptures, to the very center of Bible interpretation. He is returning, still in quest of something to satisfy his heart, without the real joy of having discovered. That is made perfectly clear, is it not, by the issue of this incident? There is something still eluding him, beyond his grasp, beyond his understanding.
But that is not all about him. Clearly he was a truly humble man; he was not frustrated by his own self-sufficiency - for there is nothing more frustrating to spiritual understanding than self-sufficiency. The man or woman who 'knows it all' is a frustrated person; they are not going to get through. But here is a truly humble man, conscious of his need, and ready to confess it, knowing his ignorance and having no compunction or hesitation in letting it be known that he is ignorant in this matter. "How can I, except some one shall guide me?"
Moreover, he is a man with a Bible which is a closed book. He has a Bible, though it be the Old Testament only - it might only be the Prophets - but it is still the Bible. He had the Bible open before him, and was reading it, but it was nevertheless a closed book.
Finally, he is a man prepared to obey, ready without any hesitation to follow the light when it comes. That is, I think, the measure of the man, the life-size portrait.
Many of these things might be thought to be great advantages, providing a sure positive ground of knowing and understanding - and yet he was still in the dark! Some of those things, of course, are essential to coming to the light, but not all of them. You can do without high position, great attainments, the achieving of ambitions; you can do without great education and natural intelligence, and still get the light. On the other hand, unless you have some of them, you will not get the light. A really humble spirit, that is teachable, open to learn, and a preparedness to obey when it comes, are essential. Nevertheless, all put together, they do not constitute a guarantee of understanding. There is an 'extra,' and an 'other,' factor, without which all those things still leave you, Bible in hand, in the dark.
The Meeting Of The Need
Now, we must step behind the incident. You notice the setting of it. Though so vital, so important, so significant, this incident is but a part of the onward movement of the exalted Christ in relation to the Church and to the world. Until we recognize this, we are without the key as to what it is and what it represents. The exalted Christ is continuing. At the beginning of this book, Luke refers to his earlier work as being the account of "all that Jesus began both to do and to teach, until the day in which He was received up" (Acts 1:1, 2). This book of the Acts as we have often said, records what He continues to do and to teach after He is received up. That is quite true. The Lord does not stop. He goes on. The march of the Lord in the earth, in the world, in relation to the Church, is still forward with mighty, dynamic force.
And behind the book, behind the doings recorded here, is the One Who is doing. He has not only been lifted up on the Cross: He has been lifted up to the glory, and He is drawing all men to Him-self. That is the issue all the time. The issue of every doing, every incident in this book is: Himself, Himself. He is pressing on with that. It is Christ - now in His right place, in the glory, at the right hand of the Majesty in the heavens, as Lord of all - Who is governing all these events. That is the setting here. It is the sovereign movement of the Spirit of Christ. Figures come and go on the scene - an Ethiopian, a Philip, and how many more - but there is one overruling Figure, the shadow of a Man in the background, governing, maneuvering, moving by His Spirit every one and everything in this book.
A Man Under The Control of Heaven
Philip, then, comes under the Spirit's government, which means that he comes under the government of the exalted Christ. That is clear, is it not? There is an interchange of words which we will not stop to discuss. 'An angel said to Philip...' 'The Spirit said to Philip...' Whether that means two things or one does not matter very much. Angels and the Holy Spirit are in cooperation. The letter to the Hebrews tells us that angels are 'ministering spirits, sent forth to minister to the heirs of salvation' (Heb. 1:14). We see here the cooperation of heavenly intelligences in this matter. Philip is under the government and control of the Holy Spirit, of the exalted Christ.
Now note that Philip is a man with but one interest in life - a very important contributing factor to the issue, to the answer to the question, "Understandest thou what thou readest?" Here is a man under the government of Christ, under the mastery of the Holy Spirit: so much so that he was no other interest in life. We could almost resolve the whole matter into that, though it is only a part. But understanding of the Word of God in such a way that it lives gloriously, and growingly lives, becomes a dynamic force in the life, and leads on to the fullness of Christ, will only be on this principle - that you and I are not people of two interests in life. It is essential that we have only one interest.
(continued with # 11)